The English Grammar School: An Explanation

The topic of an English grammar school education came up yesterday in my post “The Shyning of Them Broakin Machines”. Our Israeli correspondent MC, who received a grammar school education himself, was prompted to send some historical background on a now-vanished institution.

The English Grammar School: An Explanation
by MC

The comments sections on Gates of Vienna have recently included several references to the English Grammar School, and I note that there seems to be a notable number of contributors from this background, including, it would appear, the Baron himself.

When the socialists in the UK killed off the Grammar Schools in the early 1970s, they ended a system that had, over the past 300 years, made an academic education available to all and sundry provided that they had the ability. The institution had made a major contribution to the wealth and well-being of the nation

To get into a Grammar School one had to pass the 11+ exam, which comprised an English Language paper, an Arithmetic paper and an IQ test.

Having passed the test, one then attended a well-equipped and well-funded school that emphasised a good all-round academic education, for free.

In my years at a small-town Grammar School (founded 1775) in the South of England, there was a boy whose father drove round in a newish Bentley, and there was also one from the notorious “Riley Way” sink estate. In between were all sorts. There were no selection criteria other than passing the exam.

From the Grammar Schools a high proportion of students proceeded to University, whilst others took jobs in banking, the civil service, education and as officers in the armed forces.

Thus my uncle, the son of an illegitimate coalminer, graduated from UMIST with a degree in Electrical Engineering, and my friend Bill, son of a sergeant in the Marines, graduated from KCL with a degree in Geography.

I gained a commission in the Royal Navy, but was medically discharged, and ended up in IT.

The problem that the socialists had was ostensibly not with the Grammar Schools per se, but with the 11+. However, almost to a man, the opponents of the Grammar School system were from privately-schooled upper middle-class backgrounds, including the 2nd Viscount Stansgate (Labour member for Bristol South East) Sir Anthony Wedgewood Benn:

“Benn went to Westminster School and studied at New College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics and was elected President of the Oxford Union in 1947. In later life, Benn attempted to remove public references to his private education from Who’s Who; in the 1975 edition his entry stated “Education—still in progress”. In the 1976 edition, almost all details were omitted save for his name, jobs as a Member of Parliament and as a Government Minister” (Wikipedia entry)

This man, and his mentor Tony Crosland, were instrumental in the destruction of the Grammar schools:

Crosland was born at St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex. His father, Joseph Beardsall Crosland, was a senior official at the War Office. Both his parents were members of the Exclusive Raven Taylor Plymouth Brethren. His maternal grandfather was Frederick Edward Raven (1837—1903), founder of the Raven Exclusive Brethren and secretary of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. He grew up in North London and was educated at Highgate School and at Trinity College, Oxford. After obtaining 2nd class honours in Classical Moderations in Greek and Latin Literature, and his Masters (ibid)

A quote attributed to Crosland:

Susan Crosland claimed her husband had told her “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every fu***g grammar school in England. And Wales and Northern Ireland”, although close associates such as Roy Hattersley have doubted that the quotation is genuine. The outcome has been a source of controversy ever since. (ibid)

The demise of the Grammar School in the UK effectively slammed the door on poor children with academic ability.

The system was not perfect. In Manchester, 1 in 4 children got a place at a Grammar School; in rural Hampshire it was 1 in 11. Then there was the borderline situation, where schoolwork had to be submitted for assessment. There was also a 13+ exam to try to cater for late developers, but places were limited.

The 11+ itself presented an early hurdle for children to overcome and raised to an enormous degree the stress levels for 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds from “pushy parents”. The day I came home with “the letter” was a major relief from the huge anxieties of my 11-year-old (dyslexic) life.

The Left however, rather than improve a system that worked well, invented an experimental “one size fits all” system that has proved to be a most reliable source of social indoctrination rather than any form of education.

Grammar Schools had their roots in the 15th century institutions set up to teach Latin to selected children showing academic promise. An early example of a municipal foundation is Bridgenorth Grammar School (1503). In 1553 King Edward VI, the first totally Protestant King of England, gave the system a huge boost in setting up the Bridewell Hospital (Now King Edward’s School Witley) along with Christ’s Hospital (both are now private schools although still providing free and supported education for children from poorer backgrounds but with academic promise) as well as St Thomas’s Hospital (now a true hospital).

In the next 200 years the Grammar School became almost universal and opened opportunities for many poor children across the country. My mother-in-law, number 8 of 9 children from an impoverished Jewish household in Greenwich, London, got a place at Plumstead High School much to the delight of the whole community, and no mean achievement for a young immigrant female child of the time. Her parents spoke Yiddish and were from Eastern Europe; she had learned English from the street and from the “board school”.

The Grammar School gave many of us a first-class education free of charge, maybe without the “bells and whistles” of the major Public Schools such as Eton and Harrow.

But then, “my people are destroyed through lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4 v 6) — and knowledge we got!

19 thoughts on “The English Grammar School: An Explanation

  1. I’m also a product of the UK system, a Scottish ‘High School’, which, while not gaining me particularly good qualifications at the time, has seen me at least end up a university graduate and a teacher/lecturer with jobs around the world.

    In recent years, after retirement, I returned to teaching in Australian public schools and was shocked and disgusted at the low standards of educational achievement and general discipline within the schools and amongst the staff. Since the lefties banned corporal punishment back in the early ’80s, kids feel they can now curse and abuse their teachers. Graffiti is everywhere, garbage litters corridors and grounds, special smoking areas are sanctioned and the parents are the first to back any complaints that young Johnny makes. The girls are equally bad.

    Sorry, I’ve seen the end game of socialised schooling, and as with the other feel good programs, like mixed suburbs, it aint a pretty sight.

    Looking forward to the counter revolution……….


  2. There is a mental deficiency in socialists. Why they haven’t been deemed as unqualified for parliament is still a mystery.

    Joe McCarthy was kind’ve on the right track but he drew a bit close to the line with respect to freedom of speech and belief.

  3. An uneducated guess would suggest that it was the Grammar Schools that produced many of the self loathers that are the brand managers and enforcers of the multikulti project in the U.K.

    But when it all goes wrong they can always blame the comprehensives and the dumbed down working class.

    • no, those were produced by Oxford, Cambridge, etc. where the leftist elite, often 3rd and 4th sons and daughters of minor nobility with no chance of ever gaining the land holdings or seats in the House of Lords but guaranteed of free money as much as they could blow away on booze, prostitutes, and drugs, would gather and get their “education” in “political sciences”, “social studies”, “ethnography”, etc. etc. and turned them into disconnected leftists with gusto.

      Meanwhile, the grammar schools produced something very dangerous to those same leftists: people from a poor to middle class background who can think on their feet, do actual paying jobs and do them well, and make something of themselves.
      IOW people who’re reasonably immune to leftist propaganda.

    • A very uneducated guess, and completely and utterly wrong, JTW puts you right in fine style. My own father who was working class, went to school in wooden clogs (in the 30’s) got into grammer school, and from that base and his efforts afterwards got into a senior management position with Ford.

      The self-loathing types come from where JTW indicated, Anthony Wedgewood Ben being a prime example of this type.

  4. The school I attended in England in the 90s – while not a grammar school – was a very highly-ranked Catholic “grant-maintained” school. What separated it the most from other schools was probably the emphasis on discipline. While it wasn’t always an easy or pleasant time there, I had a chance to see the effect it had while attending Polish school on Saturdays – where others from secondary schools also attended. They were always the rowdy ones disrupting lessons, while those from my school actually wanted to learn something.

    It also had pupils from a large spread of “classes”. Many had rich and influential parents, while others came from poor backgrounds. The head boy in my year, a good friend, was raised by his single mother on a (now notoriously violent) council estate. Looking back, the argument (popular at the time) that my school, for all its faults, was “not inclusive” seems more and more absurd.

  5. I also went through the Scottish school system. There was no pussyfooting around there, you had to produce the goods if you wanted to make something of yourself, and the exam system was simple: You had to pass your O levels if you wanted to take Highers, and you had to pass your Highers (with decent grades) if you wanted to get into University.

    Nowadays it seems to be a case of: no matter how thick you are we’ll find an exam for you to take, so that you can feel good about yourself. Who decided that was a good idea?

    One thing I will say is that far too much time was spent, in my opinion, on the thickest children in any class, kids who were destined to end up working at a petrol station or skinning chickens in some factory.

    A teacher’s finite time and energy should be spent on the smartest kids in the room – who knows what they might go on to achieve?

    Instead, everyone is dragged down to the level of the lowest common denominator – a policy that seems to have spread throughout the whole education system. And what’s more, I know for a fact that in Scottish schools today, young girls are being taught a sanitised verion of Islam. Homeschooling, anyone?

    • Nick wrote: ‘I know for a fact that in Scottish schools today, young girls are being taught a sanitised verion of Islam’

      Heaven help us! Preparing them for the happy day when they marry some Koran-spewing Jihadi who’ll beat their heads in… or worse, for not wearing their hijab when going to the letterbox. That is if they’re even allowed to go near a letterbox – some nasty cuckolder might seduce her….and you never know what’s in her mail!

  6. @Jolie

    “An uneducated guess would suggest that it was the Grammar Schools that produced many of the self loathers that are the brand managers and enforcers of the multikulti project in the U.K.”

    Maybe this is so, and I don’t know, but my experience turns up these sorts of people in all walks of life and from all backgrounds, particularly amongst those of us with Jewish roots. My brother and his wife are active socialists, we agree to differ, but we are all aware of the boost that a good solid education has given us, and that is my feeling from everyone I know who can look back on their days at these schools.

    In my view, socialism is a ‘fashion statement’ based upon a belief in ’emotion’ over realism. Where I have come across self-loathing, It seems more a product of inherited privilege, or in the special case of Jews, the effect of closet anti-Semitism in their childhood environment, but that is a whole different story.

    If there are self-loathers from the Grammar School system, then there are also, it would seem, plenty of ‘extreme right’ counter Jihadist pundits from Grammar Schools; submitting pernicious articles and comments to the GoV blog.

    Long live seditious Libel!

  7. Personal opinion:
    The socialist agenda in education has resulted in ungovernable pupils by means of feminization of staff and ‘curriculum deconstruction’. Now they find unsolvable discipline problems with rowdy kids even in kindergarten.
    Socialist think tank in disarray:
    CHTO DELAT? WHAT IS TO BE DONE, COMRADES? Pig fascist are not to be blamed this time because this creature is all ours? Our (mostly female) pinko teachers are crying for help¡¡¡
    Pharmaceutical industry:
    We have the answer to your worries. The disease that was creating your problems has been identified. Namely ADHD Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder.
    Teacher Union:
    My goodness, the root cause was not our education system, it was a brain disorder. Eureka¡
    Put under treatment every kid and the problem is solved. So everyone will be happily doped ever after.
    Praise Ritalin, Focalin and Metadate because they will bring about harmony in our classrooms.

  8. @Nick,

    Education in Scotland is split along socio-economic class divides, comprehensive education has had little impact on closing that disparity.

    The inherent socio-economic “selection” by default in the Scottish education system generated the very politcal elite that nailed the ‘One Scotland. Many Cultures’ banner on the school gates of the dumbed down.

    Empirically in Scotland the more privileged the education, the more the enthusiasm for multiculturalism those overeducated privileged kids are just not smart enough to comprehend the elephant in the room that they have conjured up.

    As for the Scots kids who were destined to end up working at a petrol station or skinning chickens in some factory they have mostly been displaced by third-worlders by the educated elite.

  9. An excellent article and excellent comments.

    Just one minor point. Grammar schools haven’t all disappeared !

    There are grammar schools in Ulster, the county of Kent, a few in Berkshire and a few in other parts of the country.

    • They do indeed. The grammar school in Kent I attended forty years ago is still operating, although there are now many more boys of a darkish hue amongst the pupils than when I was there (I think we had one Asian boy out of four hundred, and no Afro-Caribbeans or other races).

  10. I attended what we call in my state in Australia “Selective schools”, which seem to function similarly. What happened to damage them was a politicially correct move to attempt to assist immigrants. We also had a English Language paper, an Arithmetic paper and an IQ test, as you mentioned, but at some point in the late 80’s, early 90’s, they moved to make the children of immigrants exempt from the english and IQ test. This meant that Australian children had the score of all three averaged out, and the immigrant children (which we all know in terms of giftedness meant largely east asian) ended up just having to sit a mathematics exam. The end result was that when I started school, we had a finishing year that was close to entirely white, and my year being around 70-80% asian. I often felt the pressure and duty of being labelled as ‘gifted’, as did many of my friends, which led us to study in a broader way. Many of the white students I attended school with have gone on to some very interesting careers, and leadership roles, whereas the asian students have effectively become a financial and bureaucratic middle class. All of them excelled in maths, but none shared that eccentricity and character that was common in the white students. They were drilled by the very true type of “Tiger parents”. I have always felt it a shame that a school such as that, which was intended to create an intellectual elite (and had done for generations, producing some famous names in intellectual circles), has ended up creating a bourgeois consumer class.

    • Your insight has far broader application: the current top elites of Red China fit the same mathematical profile.

      Many are degreed Electrical Engineers. (All of the political repression — at every stage — exempted EEs. Hence, the survivors (today’s top dogs) — and their social network were passed over.)

      You can only imagine their consernation when forced to deal with entirely anti-mathematical whizzes like HRC — and Barry.

      Barry’s mother lived directly above me, in 1983. So, I was able to witness his intra-familial dynamic with his ‘tutu’ when he visited during the big holidays.

      He punched her buttons passively, aggressively. This had her raving like a foul mouthed drill instructor at Paris Island. Loudest woman I’ve ever heard. She continued to berate him as the elevator descended. (!) This scene happened three (3) times — every time. (!)

      Of course, she was a numbers maven. She rose to the top clerical position (also running the CIA’s dark money accounts) at Hawaii’s biggest bank. For her, numbers and budgets were everything. (Not withstanding her Leftist political views.)

      From childhood onwards, Barry has lived his life in opposition to numbers crunchers.

      Now, you can begin to understand why the budget ‘negotiations’ can’t get into first gear. His eyes glaze over the second digital information — and government limits — hove into view.

      And, yes, his grandmother/ tutu always addressed him as Barry. Even though, by 1983, he’d shed it — in favor of Buraq.

  11. I went to a catholic high (grammar) school for girls in the 60s. Most of these schools (I live in SW England) were called high schools, we still have three in the city now. They were usually single sex. The one that I went to was run by the Notre Dame order of nuns. It was a very strict establishment, uniform was an absolute must, almost to the point of being military. I realise now that although quite an average student I had a superior education. My daughter went to the same school. It had become by then a ‘comprehensive’, still run by the nuns until recently but the change were unbelievable. It is still girls only (which is rare), but the old ethos and discipline have gone for ever.

  12. I have a question. If one purchases something, isn’t that transaction for something? Usually some fungible proxy such as money? Therefore it is purchased for X amount or something similar. If one does not pay for something, it is generally said it is free. My question is, how could it be for free? Is is not either for X or free? I feel that GoV readers tend to be well educated and am simply curious in this use of language. Sadly I am the product of a public school education in the United States. Happily we home schooled our two children who are excelling in the affairs of this life. I, on the other hand, need help from time to time.

    • When you say something is for “free”, that means that the receiver of the item does not pay anything for it. Advertisers use the term – yet the products they make (presumably) cost them money to do so. It’s a way of “selling” a product – to make it seem nice and good value-for-money. Both for private advertisers – and proponents of state education or healthcare. If journalists were to use the term “taxpayer-funded” instead of free, would as many voters be in favour of providing it?

      • A ‘fungible proxy’ – that’s a new one for a non-economics doofus like myself. Where does the old system of ‘barter’ fit in?

        Where I live, in a rural area, a lot of transactions are done on an informal barter system. The local sparky will do small jobs for a few dozen eggs which he can then barter for something else, like vegies, fruit, to kids for cleaning his vehicles etc.

        Local op shops are marvellous too, being able to buy clothes, furniture,and kitchen wares at a fraction of normal retail price is a kind of barter too.

        Just sayin’

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